Meryl Streep Explains Our Fascination with Florence Foster Jenkins

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins and Hugh Grant as St Clair Bayfield in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS by Paramount Pictures, Pathé and BBC Films (Nick Wall Copyright © 2016 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

This Friday, Florence Foster Jenkins, a film about a tone-deaf opera singer starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, opens. WQXR host Elliott Forrest sat down with both stars prior to opening day to discuss our endless fascination with this peculiar figure as well as her partner and manager, St. Clair Bayfield.

In 1944 at the age of 76, Foster Jenkins sold out Carnegie Hall — more than 2,000 people were turned away from the door — with a recital of opera arias that she performed off key. Listen to Streep recount this history in the audio above. Watch the full interviews with both Streep and Grant in the videos below.

Florence Foster Jenkins trailer:

Hosted by:

Elliott Forrest

Produced by:

Merrin Lazyan and Kim Nowacki


More in:

Comments [15]

MDallas from Bronx, NY

I just sleeved the DVD of "Florence Foster Jenkins"after watching it for about 25 minutes. Meryl Streep was marvelous, as usual, but I just didn't feel like watching a movie whose only apparent purpose was to ridicule a kind person, whose only apparent sin was being affluent and generous with her money.

Feb. 25 2017 03:32 PM
john dunbar from Kitchener Canada

If for no other reason, this story is inexplicable to any social scientist that I have contacted thus far. The simple fact is that she was an UTTER FRAUD but that she not only evaded discovery for so long but that she tugged thousands of adoring fans along to her downfall. Incredible !

Jan. 22 2017 08:02 AM

I just put Florence Foster Jenkins in my Netflix queue. I remember, when Meryl Streep was just getting famous, she played Kate in Taming of the Shrew in Shakespeare in the Park. She was quoted in an interview as saying that she wanted to be an advocate for her character. I loved that quote. I hope, when I see the movie, that she is an advocate for Florence Foster Jenkins, a woman deserving of something kinder than ridicule.

Jan. 07 2017 12:30 AM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Just finished watching Margarite. Really sad film all about illusions. Superb performances.
Of course, there will be comparisons between the two films.

Sep. 23 2016 07:08 AM
Doubting Thomasina from Dutchess County

I enjoyed this film immensely, and it never occurred to me to mock or sneer at Florence, this line from Henry Van Dyke kept running through my head: Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. FFJ loved music passionately, and expressed that love through her singing. It was plain to me, through Ms. Streep's intelligent and sensitive performance, that FFJ wasn't a deluded egomaniac and certainly not an object of derision; she wanted to share what she loved with others, and experience the joy of singing, she wanted to be part of something she loved passionately. How awful to live in a world where people are told that they have to achieve a professional standard in order to do anything they love, or worse yet, adhere to someone else's standard!

Aug. 21 2016 06:49 PM
Gev from The Jersey Shore

It seems to me that FFJ loved what she was doing, and she brought joy and laughter to people at a time when joy and laughter were badly needed, even if she managed to do so in the bravest, most off-the-wall manner imaginable. What better person to replicate that clueless musical derring-do than Meryl Streep? And what better time than now, when we can all use a great deal of laughter and diversion?

Aug. 14 2016 05:11 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

@Christopher: How true, The film Marguerite is a sad one.
How easy for our elites to poke fun. The NY Post re-printed a review that Earl Wilson wrote 50 years or so ago. Really cruel.
We glorify cruel don't we.

Aug. 14 2016 06:50 AM
Christopher Hosford from Bronx

Anyone who follows classical music knows of Ms. Jenkins as a curious but well-known personage, so this is not a particularly revelatory article for this site, nor an illuminating one for this audience. But I have to point out this obvious fact: Ms. Jenkins loved loved music and apparently was a sincere person. I can't see how any film of her life and times can do anything but poke fun, cruelly and mockingly, at an all too easy mark. Once again and forever, it appears that our tony up-town elites —you know who you are, wherever you are — are making fun of what they see as a rube and an inferior. It reveals itself in your smears, intolerance and lately often your violence. Ms. Streep has made her political opinions clear, and is Exhibit No. 1. Millions find it offensive. I find it offensive.

Aug. 13 2016 07:44 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Yes, Jo Stafford, fine singer. Check out her Haunted Heart.
Looking forward to Jenkins film as well as Marguerite, which is on my Netflix list. But the French film, is actually sad.

Aug. 12 2016 06:53 AM
Les B. from Springfield, NJ

While Jo Stafford, as Jo Oppenheimer says above, also did a number of (very funny) recordings off-key, there was a difference. FF Jenkins was serious about her efforts; Jo Stafford (for those who don't remember her, she was a very fine popular singer of what we now call the American songbook) and her husband, pianist and bandleader Paul Weston, were both terrific musicians with a sense of humor. They recorded their almost-music as "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards." Stafford, a fine musician, would sing "in the cracks" between the keys, as Elliott points out - you know, where listeners grit their teeth because the music hurts their fillings. Weston would tinkle the piano like a not-very-good lounge pianist. I've heard their son discuss the music and recordings, stressing how tough it is for a good singer or pianist to sing/play just badly enough to be really funny. Glad FFJ is getting the attention - and thanks for the interview with Meryl Streep.

Aug. 11 2016 02:38 PM
Jo Oppenheimer from Brooklyn, NY

I remember Jo Stafford's album of off-key singing. I loved her voice. As for Florence Foster Jenkins, I am familar with her singing and her appeal. I do look forward to this Friday to see Meryl's performance. The fact that she can actually sing well is a plus because only a singer who has true talent can deliberately sing off key.

Aug. 11 2016 02:15 PM
Joe Shocket from Richmond, VA

Meryl Streep's movie is based on an earlier film "Marguerite" about a similar off-key "opera diva" Marguerite Dumont, who performed on a regular basis at her palatial estate before the members of her society group. They attended more for the food and drink than any love of music. This film was set in Paris in 1921 and is well worthwhile seeing to compare the two.

Aug. 11 2016 11:47 AM
Diane S. from New Jersey

I saw "Souvenir" on Broadway some years ago and was delighted with the story of a happy woman who enjoyed doing what she couldn't really do. I'll be seeing Ms. Streep on the big screen on Tuesday and have been looking forward to the movie for months.

Aug. 11 2016 09:11 AM

Aviva, it was great fun. Glad you enjoyed it! Elliott

Aug. 11 2016 09:06 AM
Aviva Cohen from West New York, NJ

How delightful! all of it.. Meryl, the film... thank you, Elliott... I have been waiting impatiently for this film, being familiar with Florence Foster Jenkins. Some years ago, Jo Stafford, known for her perfect pitch, recorded an album of songs ... sung just slightly off... the funniest!

Aug. 11 2016 07:47 AM

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